Thursday, March 24, 2011

Beauty and Classical Education

The Spring 2010 edition of the quarterly journal for the Association of Classical and Christian schools had an article by Stephen Turley titled "Educational Aesthetics." It can be downloaded HERE.

Echoing some of the same themes I raised in my article on aesthetics that I wrote for 'Christianity and Society' as well as in my earlier series of posts on the objectivity of beauty, but applying them to an educational context, Turley comments on the latent relativism within so many Christians classrooms when it comes to aesthetics.
"I, too, have witnessed in my own teaching experience at both the high school and university levels how modernist assumptions have worked themselves out in our aesthetic conceptions, such that when called to give a basic account for the classical conception of Beauty, students entering my classroom consistently exemplify a complete and total devotion to aesthetic relativism....
Beauty is the manifestation of the loveliness, the delectableness, the desirableness of Truth and Goodness.  Divinely infused meaning was not simply known or impartially observed, it was loved, it was cherished; meaning awakened a sense of delight within us. And this delight, this sense of the loveliness of the True and the Good, served the indispensable role of momentum or motivation in intellectual, moral, and spiritual pursuits. This is why we associate Beauty with “attraction”; through Beauty we are drawn to the True and the Good. Beauty provides us with the allure, the momentum toward the True and the Good without which the True and the Good would simply dissipate into neutrality. As evidenced in the classical formulation of “ascent” from the beautiful to the divine found in Plato’s Symposium and Phaedrus or Dante’s Divine Comedy, or Augustine’s conversion account in his Confessions, or Jonathan Edwards’ masterful analysis of the motivation of the will in every act of the mind’s choosing, Beauty provides the momentum, the gravitational pull, the attraction for the True and the Good through the stages of physical, moral, and spiritual life....

As classical educators, we must scrutinize the extent to which we too have inadvertently perpetuated this modernist dichotomy between knowledge and Beauty. I believe it is this dichotomy that is the primary carrier for the aesthetic relativism that remains embodied by our students, not to mention us. This suggests to me that while we have put much thought into teaching Truth and Goodness in our classical schools, we have done so at the expense of teaching Beauty, and I am very concerned that our educational efforts are in fact being undermined by a ubiquitously present relativism coming through the back door. Truth, Goodness, and Beauty are not sequestered from one another–they need each other and they are implied in one another. And if Beauty is robbed of its transcendent nature and relocated solely within the private psychological processes, then Truth and Goodness are sure to follow.

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